Even though Spaniards have a reputation for adding ham to everything, Spain is more vegan-friendly than most people realize. Nowhere is this truer than in Madrid, where it seems like a new vegan restaurant opens practically every week.
With so many options, vegan visitors to Madrid can easily get overwhelmed. How can you possibly have the time or the room in your stomach to try everything?!
The answer is tapas. Tapas are a fantastic way to experience Spanish food culture and try lots of different dishes at once.
What Are Tapas?
Tapas are small plates of food that are served along with drinks in Spanish tapas bars and in some restaurants. Some parts of the country have a stronger tapas culture than others, and you’ll also find regional variations of the custom.
For example, in San Sebastian and other cities in the Basque Country, people eat pintxos (pronounced “peen-chose”) rather than tapas. Pintxos are also small portions of food served with a drink. The main difference between pintxos and tapas is that, while tapas can take many forms, pintxos are always served on top of a slice of bread.
Because tapas come in such a wide variety of shapes, sizes and flavors, even the most old-school tapas bars will usually have at least a couple of vegan and vegetarian tapas. Some of the most popular traditional Spanish tapas are accidentally vegan, such as patatas bravas, pimientos del padrón and champiñones al ajillo.
But in a vegan-friendly city like Madrid, there are also quite a few fully vegan tapas bars and restaurants to choose from. In addition to the usual vegetable-based tapas, these places will often create veganized versions of popular non-vegan tapas using plant-based meat or cheese.
Madrid has one of the best vegan food scenes I’ve ever encountered in a European city. And the number of fully vegan places, as well as vegan-friendly restaurants, is growing all the time. It’s become a bit overwhelming!
Each time I revisit the Madrid food scene, I’m torn between returning to my favorite haunts and checking out some of the new vegan options that keep popping up.
My most recent visit to Madrid was a quick, two-day stopover while Nick and I made the final preparations for walking the Camino de Madrid branch of the Camino de Santiago.
Since it was just a short visit, I wanted to focus on the very best places for eating vegan in Madrid. But how would I narrow down my search when there were so many options?
When I heard that a new startup company called Madrid Vegan Travel was offering guided vegan tapas food tours, I jumped at the chance to devour Madrid with a local madrileña vegan.
Diana and I had such a fun day out together! I trusted her to guide me to the best tapas in Madrid, and she did not let me down.
Here are the places we visited on the Madrid tapas tour:
Vegan Tapas Madrid Tour Stops
Mad Mad Vegan
Mad Mad Vegan is a food stall that recently opened inside the Mercado de San Ildefonso. The market was built in the 18th century and is the oldest covered market in the city. It’s a bit hidden, and, unlike at the touristy Mercado de San Miguel, eating there is an authentic madrileño experience.
At Mad Mad Vegan, we tried a veggie version of two traditional dishes that are normally about as far as you can get from being vegan: patatas con carne and calamari!
The patatas con carne, which translates as “potatoes with meat”, was a basket of golden crispy French fries topped with a delicious plant-based meat, along with onions, black sesame seeds and some wondrously creamy sauces.
And the vegan calamari looked and tasted exactly like octopus. The battered and deep-fried rings had the same chewy texture as traditional calamari, and I’m certain they would have fooled any seafood lover.
Diana explained to us that, for madrileños, calamari is a typical dish that’s eaten on Sundays, when families head out to the Plaza Mayor together.
Landareak means "vegetables" in the Basque language, and this tiny vegan restaurant specializes in slow food from the Basque Country. This is actually a new addition to the tour, and one that I didn’t get a chance to visit.
But the photos Diana sent me of their no-chicken with tomato sauce made my mouth water. Another reason to go back to Madrid!
All of the food at Landareak is organic, and it’s a real local favorite that has not yet been discovered by tourists.
Pizzi & Dixie
Pizzi & Dixie is an Italian-Spanish fusion restaurant that is most famous for its pizzas and calzones. I had eaten there on a previous trip and loved it, so I thought I knew what to expect. Little did I know that Diana had arranged a special surprise for us!
The chef at Pizzi & Dixie prepares a special tapa just for Madrid Vegan Travel tour participants. Each tour group gets something different, depending on the chef’s creative inspiration and on which ingredients are in season.
These special items are not on the menu, so the only way to experience them is by joining the tour. The day we were there, he proudly presented us something he called “pepitoria con acelgas”.
I wasn’t familiar with pepitoria, but I learned that it’s a creamy almond sauce that is normally eaten with chicken. In this case, though, it was paired with rainbow Swiss chard lightly drizzled with olive oil.
The chef was very kind to chat with us and explain the significance of the dish, and his passion for cooking really shone through. In fact, he wasn’t even supposed to be working that day!
He had come into the restaurant on his day off just to make this tapa for us, and he slipped back out as soon as he saw that we were satisfied. We felt very honored and privileged to have met him and tasted his special creation.
Our tour ended on a sweet note at Freedom Cakes, a fully vegan bakery run by a mother-daughter team who make all kinds of delicious cakes and other baked goods. There were about a dozen cakes to choose from, and they all looked incredible.
It was so hard to pick just one, but eventually I decided on the Nutella cake and was happy with my choice. The cakes are layered with lots of creamy frosting, so if you’ve got a sweet tooth then this is the place for you.
I also took a cookie for the road and enjoyed it as part of a picnic on our first day walking the Camino de Santiago.
The vegan tapas tour of Madrid was a wonderful experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the best of the Madrid vegan food scene without spending weeks or months testing all the different options.
You’ll have the chance to taste veganized versions of typical Spanish food at local eateries that you probably wouldn’t have come across on your own. Plus, you’ll get a chance to meet the chefs who create these plant-based wonders!
Diana from Madrid Vegan Travel was great company, and I learned so much from her about Spanish cuisine and about veganism and animal rights activism in Spain. I especially enjoyed hearing the stories and traditions behind the dishes we tasted.
She can also give you tips on ordering vegan food at omni restaurants in Spain, including in other parts of the country that are much less vegan-friendly than Madrid.
The tour can also be an opportunity to meet like-minded people and connect with madrileños and other visitors to the city. Expect plenty of interesting conversations about food, animals, environmentalism, etc.
Madrid Vegan Travel’s tours are always small, with a maximum of eight people, so it’s easy to get to know each other and make new friends.
And, in addition to all the food talk, Diana also throws in some stories and legends about the area of Madrid that you visit. By the end of the tour, you will be familiar with the neighborhood and will know a little more about Spanish history.
Plus, it’s a great feeling to know that you are supporting a local vegan business and normalizing vegan tourism in Spain.
Other Contenders for the Best Tapas in Madrid
In addition to the places we visited on the Madrid vegan tapas tour, here are a few other Madrid tapas joints that I have tried personally and enjoyed.
When I first visited Vega as a new vegan back in 2015, I was blown away. A fully vegan tapas bar in the heart of Madrid’s lively Malasaña district?! Yes, please! Nowadays, vegan restaurants and even vegan tapas bars are a lot more common in Madrid, so Vega doesn’t stand out quite as much.
It’s still a good option, though, and their blueberry cheesecake is one of the best vegan cheesecakes I’ve ever tasted. The daily desserts change regularly, but if you happen to see cheesecake on the menu be sure to grab a slice!
Read more about Vega and other vegan Madrid eateries in my vegan guide to Madrid.
This 100% vegan and organic eatery does offer a full restaurant service during Spanish meal times, but from 5pm to 8pm it’s more of a tapas bar. When we visited, Nick and I shared the Mediterranean tasting platter, which included some unusual plant-based Spanish twists on standard Middle Eastern fare.
For example, the hummus was flavored with apples and mustard (tastes better than it sounds!), and the schwarma was made from Heura. This was my first experience with Heura, which is a plant-based meat created by a Barcelona start-up that has taken Spain by storm. It looks and tastes so much like chicken meat it’s unbelievable!
This usually crowded Spanish dive bar has long been a favorite with young vegans in Madrid. Prices are unbelievably cheap, and portion sizes are very generous.
B13 is a great place to try veganized versions of some of the classic Spanish tapas like tortilla de patatas and croquetas. It’s hard to believe that the tortilla is made without eggs!
I’m not a huge chorizo fan, but their chorizo sandwiches also come highly recommended.
La Huerta de Almería
This vegetarian restaurant specializes in cold soups from the south of Spain, including gazpacho and ajo blanco. The gazpacho I tasted there was incredibly smooth and creamy, and the ajo blanco was the thickest I had ever seen. It was more like a dip or spread than a soup!
I actually visited this place as part of the vegan tapas tour and was very pleased with it, but Diana later told me that the quality had gone downhill and that she no longer felt she could recommend it. So, you’ve been warned!
I guess that’s one more reason to join a tour led by a local, as they will always have the most accurate, up-to-date information on the ever-changing vegan scene.
For more information about the Madrid vegan tapas tour and the other vegan tours and services that Diana offers, you can contact her at her email address hello[at]madridvegantravel[dot]com or check out the Madrid Vegan Travel website.
A great big thank you to Diana and Madrid Vegan Travel for hosting me on the Madrid tapas tour. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.